By Rommel Banlaoi
Rear Admiral Alexander Pama has assumed as the 32nd Flag Officer-in-Command (FOIC) of the Philippine Navy. Like his predecessors, Pama is faced with the enormous challenge of modernizing one of the most ill-equipped navies of the world.
In his assumption speech, Pama vowed to seriously implement the Navy Sail Plan 2020, which aims to make PN “a credible Navy that our maritime nation can be proud of” by 2020. This is a tough job for Pama considering that most of the the military’s naval assets are considered obsolete.
Out of the 53 ships in the Navy inventory, only 25 are declared operational. The Navy only has 32 active vessels to patrol 36,000 nautical miles of Philippine waters. While it has present defense capabilities against surface and ground targets, it has limited capabilities against air targets.
The Navy’s existing naval aircraft can only conduct very limited reconnaissance and transport operations. While its firepower is considered sufficient for International Security Operations (ISO), the Navy’s capabilities for Territorial Defense Operations (TDO) are still insufficient. Our Navy is the only one in the region without a missile capability.
From being the finest naval service in Asia in the 1950s, the Philippine Navy now lags very far behind its neighbors in Southeast Asia.
As an example, the existing Cannon Class BRP (Boat of the Republic of the Philippines) Rajah Humabon (BRP-RH) was the state-of-art patrol frigate during World War II. Its sister ships in the United States commissioned in 1943 are already in US naval museums for display. But the BRP-RH is still serving the Navy in various regional naval exercises and continues to symbolize the country’s Flagship.
While the Navy recently announced the final decommissioning of three World War II vintage patrolcraft, it continues to operate some World War II vintage ships, such as the BRP Rizal and BRP Quezon, which were originally used as minesweeping flotillas of the US in the early 1940s. Both are still being used to patrol the nine facilities of the Philippines in the South China Sea.
One obstacle to Philippine naval modernization is the perennial problem of inter-service rivalry common among armed forces in the worldThus, when the Philippine Congress passed the AFPMP in 1995, the Navy formed the Naval Modernization Office (NMO), which symbolized the service command’s aspiration for modernization. In May 2009, the Philippines acquired three new multi-purpose attack craft for deployment in the waters Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi.
The defense department, on the other hand, recently ordered the acquisition of two multi-role vessels from either Singapore and South Korea.
Indeed, the Navy is serious in its plan to implement naval modernization. But there are at least 4 major domestic challenges that it has to hurdle in order to modernize:
1.) Current threat perceptions of decision makers;
2) Resource constraints;
3) Inter-service rivalry; and
4) Difficult procurement system
Though the Philippine government is already contemplating on paying greater attention on territorial defense, it continues to regard internal security as its foremost security concern. This threat perception has made naval modernization program not in the budgetary priority of the government. In fact, there is a perception that the Philippine government in general lacks an appreciation of naval power.
The Navy only has P10.5 B this year, which prevents them from buying new equipmentEffective budgeting is essential for naval modernization. But as former Secretary Jesus Estanislao underscores, the Navy can only operate “on the basis of budgetary allocations that the national government provides and releases to it.”
For Fiscal Year 2010, the Navy was allocated only P10.5 billion against the total armed forces budget of around P50 billion.
For 2011, the Navy will receive almost the same amount. Around 70 percent of the Navy’s annual budget is used for the salary of naval personnel while the rest are being used for the maintenance and operation of existing naval assets. This kind of budgetary allocation leaves no room for capital outlay necessary for naval equipment acquisition.
Another obstacle to Philippine naval modernization is the perennial problem of inter-service rivalry common among armed forces in the world. There are two major sources of inter-service rivalry in the Philippines that affect naval modernization: issues over the appropriation of the military budget and debate on the procurement of military weapons. With a budgetary allocation that privileges internal security and ground operations, the Philippine Army largely determines the procurement of military weapons for internal security operations.
The procurement of naval equipment necessary for modernization is also being slowed down by existing national procurement processes.
The government passed Republic Act (RA) 9184 , otherwise known as the New Procurement Law, which intends to ensure that the government procurement processes are transparent, accountable and competitive.
While RA 9184 can work well in normal government procurement requirements, the armed forces argues that this law is difficult to implement for defense modernization procurement, particularly for naval modernization, which requires confidentiality and an alternative means of procurement that allows multiyear financing and multi-year budgeting or obligational authority.
Unless the Philippine government overcomes these challenges through a paradigm shift in national security policy and priorities, Pama who is recognized as an excellent planner and effective doer, will find it truly difficult for the Navy to regain its past glory as one of the world’s finest naval forces.
The author, an independent security analyst, is the Executive Director of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research and Head of its Center for Intelligence and National Security Studies.
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